KEEP YOUR KITCHEN TOXIN-FREE WITH 6 EASY SWAPS
Reduce your family’s toxin exposure in the kitchen with these 6 simple swaps. From pots and pans to cleaning supplies, we share six ways to reduce exposure to harmful chemicals in the kitchen and protect your family’s health.
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The kitchen is one of the most important rooms in your home—it’s where every meal is prepared to sustain your family. And you probably put a lot of effort into getting healthy food on the table. But beyond balanced meals and organic food, you might not realize that some of the pots and pans you cook with and the cleaners you use may contain chemicals that are potentially harmful to the health of your family.
Ten years ago, several of my extended family members were diagnosed with cancer. I went into a tailspin of panic and anxiety. Was it genetic? Were we all exposed to some harmful chemical? Over the years I’ve calmed down a bit. I’ve also been doing research and making small changes toward a more non-toxic home. If there are any steps I can take to reduce my family’s exposure to toxins, I’m all in.
It started with replacing all of my non-stick cookware, and I’ve been making other healthy swaps ever since. If you want to limit your family’s toxin exposure in the kitchen, here are 6 simple ways to get started.
1. DITCH NON-STICK COOKWARE
With an easy-to-clean surface, non-stick cookware is a hard one to give up. But, you’ll be one step closer to a non-toxic home once you do. As I mentioned above, we ditched our non-stick cookware 10 years ago, and I can tell you it’s completely doable!
The problem with non-stick cookware and bakeware is the material used to create the non-stick surface. Non-stick coatings like Teflon contain per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances, or PFAS chemicals. At high heat (500°F), the non-stick coating releases fumes that are potentially harmful to your health. PFAS has even been linked to certain types of cancer (1).
Have you heard the term “canary in a coalmine”? In this case, it’s “canary in the kitchen”. Hundreds of pet bird deaths have been blamed on toxic emissions from non-stick cookware (2).
Are you thinking that there’s no way your non-stick pans could get 500°F hot? Good Housekeeping performed a test to determine how fast three sets of non-stick pans (cheap and light, midweight, and heavy, high end) heat up past 500°F. All three pans heated up past 500°F in just minutes (3)!
In our kitchen, we use a combination of stainless steel pots and pans and baking sheets, a ceramic Dutch oven, glass casserole dishes and a stoneware muffin tin and loaf pan. If you do have stuck-on food, soaking the pan for 10 minutes gets most food off.
MY FAVORITE NON-TOXIC COOKWARE AND BAKEWARE SWAPS
2. SWAP CONVENTIONAL KITCHEN CLEANER FOR NON-TOXIC CLEANER
Your kitchen cleaning routine shouldn’t involve using harmful toxins. It’s possible you’re breathing in asthma-inducing fumes and leaving a harmful residue where you prep and eat your food.
A bottle of Formula 409 Antibacterial Kitchen All-Purpose Lemon Fresh Cleaner gets a score of F from the Environmental Working Group (EWG). Several of the ingredients can cause respiratory effects, skin allergies and irritation, nervous system effects, general system/organ effects, and developmental and reproductive toxicity.
Watch out for companies that advertise all-purpose cleaners as “natural” without checking the EWG score. Method All-Purpose French Lavender Surface Cleaner also gets a score of F from the EWG. Several of the ingredients can cause respiratory effects, skin allergies and irritation, and developmental and reproductive toxicity.
Replace conventional kitchen cleaners with a toxin-free option. Here are some kitchen cleaners that get top grades from the EWG.
ALL-PURPOSE KITCHEN CLEANERS WITH WINNING EWG SCORES
3. REPLACE PLASTIC FOOD STORAGE WITH GLASS
Why risk storing your food in plastic containers that may leach chemicals? BPA is a known endocrine disruptor, and manufacturers have created a slew of plastic kitchen products that are BPA-free.
BUT, plastic containers labeled “BPA-free” don’t necessarily mean they’re any safer. They may contain other bisphenols, such as BPS, which have the same harmful properties as BPA (4). Even bisphenol-free plastics may contain other endocrine-disrupting chemicals (5).
The best solution is to store your leftovers in glass storage containers with lids.
GLASS FOOD STORAGE OPTIONS THAT WORK
4. SWAP PAPER TOWELS FOR WASHCLOTHS
I’ve made a lot of changes toward a non-toxic kitchen in the past 10 years, but paper towels just weren’t on my radar until now. Here’s what I’ve just learned: paper towels may contain formaldehyde, chlorine, and BPA (6).
Formaldehyde containing resins give paper towels their wet strength (durability when wet). Formaldehyde is associated with irritation of the eyes, skin and throat, and a known carcinogen at high levels of exposure (7).
Chlorine gives paper towels their characteristic white color. Dioxin is a by-product of the bleaching process, and exposure can lead to altered liver function and impairment of the immune system and endocrine system (8).
BPA contaminates paper towels during the recycling process. BPA is a known endocrine disruptor (9).
After learning all of this, I’m ready to stop relying on paper towels for drying and clean-up and switch to reusable washcloths. Bonus—I read that switching out paper towels for reusable cloths can save a family $400 a year! It’s easier on the environment too! I’ll still keep paper towels around for yucky spills like raw meat.
Even though I have a kitchen drawer full of washcloths, they’re not as easy to access as I’d like. My solution is to keep a few washcloths in a basket near the sink (can you believe this little detail has been holding me back?). I like to keep washcloths with various textures (waffle texture, super absorbent, extra soft) on hand for different kitchen clean-up jobs.
REUSABLE ALTERNATIVES TO PAPER TOWELS
5. REPLACE PLASTIC WRAP AND PLASTIC BAGGIES
Plastic wrap and plastic baggies are just so handy…but they’re made with potential endocrine disruptors. Although pthalates were phased out of plastic wrap in 2006, low-density polyethylene (LDPE) or polyvinylidene chloride (PVDC) are now used (10).
LDPE may contain diethylhexyl adipate (DEHA), a potential endocrine disruptor and carcinogen (11). Another reason to make the swap? All that plastic builds up in landfills, adding to our long-term waste problem.
NON-PLASTIC SWAPS FOR PLASTIC WRAP & PLASTIC BAGGIES
6. FILTER YOUR WATER
The water coming out of the tap in your kitchen faucet may be loaded with contaminants. Arsenic, disinfection byproducts and radioactive contaminants are at the top of the list (12). Ingestion of arsenic-tainted water over a long period of time has been linked to an increased risk of skin and bladder cancer (13).
If there’s radium in your water (ours is slightly above the legal limit at the time of this writing), then you’re at risk for serious health issues. Exposure to high levels of radium is associated with an increased risk of bone, liver and breast cancer (14).
And if that’s not enough, the EWG reports that there are no legal limits for more than 160 unregulated contaminants in U.S. tap water (17).
The EWG has a tap water database linked by zip code. Enter your zip code to learn if there are contaminants in your drinking water. If your water source comes from a private well, you are responsible for contaminant testing.
We get our drinking water from a dispenser on the fridge door, and change out the filter about every six months (although it can be hard to remember).
SOME OF THE BEST WAYS TO FILTER YOUR DRINKING WATER
MORE NATURAL LIVING INSPIRATION
- Nicole, W. PFOA and Cancer in a Highly Exposed Community: New Findings from the C8 Science Panel. Environ Health Perspect. 2013 Nov-Dec; 121(11-12): A340.
- Canaries in the Kitchen: EWG finds heated Teflon pans can turn toxic faster than DuPont claims. Environmental Working Group. May 15, 2003.
- Betty Gold and Amanda Schaffer. Is Nonstick Cookware Safe? Here’s Everything You Need to Know, According to Experts. Good Housekeeping Institute, May 20, 2019.
- Bilbrey, J. BPA-Free Plastic Containers May Be Just as Hazardous. Scientific American. Aug. 11, 2014.
- Kitamura, S., et al. 2005. Comparative study of the endocrine-disrupting activity of bisphenol A and 19 related compounds. Toxicol Sci 84(2):249-259.
- Liao, C. and Kannan, K. Widespread occurrence of bisphenol A in paper and paper products: implications for human exposure. Environ Sci Technol. 2011 Nov 1;45(21):9372-9.
- Facts About Formaldehyde
- World Health Organization: Dioxins and Their Effects on Human Health
- Konieczna A,, Rutkowska A., and Rachoń D. Health risk of exposure to Bisphenol A (BPA). Rocz Panstw Zakl Hig. 2015;66(1):5-11.
- Weil, A. Is Plastic Wrap Safe? Jan. 31, 2013.
- Department of Environmental Health Risk Science Center, University of Cincinnati. Toxicity Review for Bis(2-ethylhexyl) Adipate (DEHA). Aug. 8, 2018.
- Evans, S., Campbell, C. and O. Naidenko. Cumulative risk analysis of carcinogenic contaminants in United States drinking water. Heliyon. Volume 5, Issue 9, Sept. 1, 2019.
- National Cancer Institute: Arsenic.
- Illinois Department of Public Health Fact Sheet: Radium in Drinking Water. Jan. 2008.
- Lead in U.S. Drinking Water
- World Health Organization: Lead Poisoning and Health
- The Dirty Secret of Government Drinking Water Standards. Oct. 2019.
image of kitchen via depositphotos